Author Archives: Jack

Time to pay the piper

The closer we came back to Rebak Island the closer we got to a date with the hardstand and days of bunny suits, sanding, eating the dust of our three year old bottom paint mixed with the hard shell remains of several thousand barnacles who chose to hitchhike with us on EV rather than drift aimlessly about the ocean. On the flight back we flew at a very low altitude directly over Escape Velocity gently tugging at her lines. We looked at each other and mumbled “she swims” which I imagine every relived boat owner says after being away from his vessel.

I’d like to say that we hit the ground running but I can’t. 

First we have the Grand Quest. 

I don’t know how I could have left the US with just one set of power tools. No one mentioned this to me. Magazines, conversation, or books…no one. Heartsick at having to strip painfully down to an inadequate collection of 120v tools, I find that the rest of the world does just fine with 240v power tools. So what I’m hearing is that I need two sets of power tools. Now, for normal occasional use I simply use our 120v inverter and Bob’s your uncle. But sanding all day every day is not going to happen on a solar-powered boat. On the hard in 240v land we can’t plug in to the yard’s juice and we can’t run our generator when we’re out of the water, so it’s up to the sun. I had the yard run a 240v line for a sander and a small rented window air conditioner but we still didn’t have a proper 240v random orbiting sander. After searching at every local hardware store we eventually found a heavy duty sander at a Chinese shop in Kuah. 

First up was a complete redesign of EV’s raw water cooling system with dedicated thru- hulls instead of trying to suck cooling water up through the clog-prone sail drives. I added strainers just after the raw water pumps to trap any rubber bits in case of a disintegrating impeller, kind of a suspenders and belt solution.

Every skipper, when passing EV said, “Hey! She looks really good for being out three years!” Maybe so but we’d promised ourselves a slippery bottom this time. I have to agree that she did look pretty good. No blisters, no flaking paint, no glaring problems. Ah, dreams.

Our hot tip on attempting to use stripper to remove the heavy coats of antifouling paint involved multiple layers of plastic wrap in an attempt to keep the goop from drying out. When it failed a fair test, we switched to exhaustive scraping with chisels kept razor sharp by Yours Truly. 

In a few days I threw in the towel. No mas! 

In full bunny suit, goggles, and a better than average mask, I started grinding with our new heavy duty 240v sander. I find the trick here is to go to your happy place and stay there until it’s over. What’s the worst that could happen?

Monkeys, that’s what. Monkeys rifling through the garbage at the end of the dock? No, that’s kind of cute. The rascals send one of the bigger fellas dumpster diving and every so often he’d pop up and hand off something deemed good enough. After a thorough investigation he’d jump out of the can neglecting to close the lid, with something I suspect he’d been holding out on the troop for his own stash, like a couple of rotten bananas I threw out that morning. 

We’ve come upon this same troop walking on Rebak and they can get a little aggressive if they perceive a threat to all the cute wee ones scurrying about the path and in low hanging branches. After all it’s their jungle. 

What I’m talking about is a large long tailed Macaque sitting in our cockpit munching on one of our onions like an apple, staring at us through our glass door while we’re eating dinner. When I looked up, our eyes met and he bared his large yellow fangs. Gulp! A quick inventory of my weapon stash flashed through my mind. No, he has our water hose out there. A carved Marquesan war club?…too short. A Vanuatan hollow stick drum?…it’s just wrong. Food prep knives?…way too short. Flare pistol?…no need to burn the joint down. No, this is a job for Yours Truly who will announce his presence with authority.

Upon opening the door I was met with an unholy howl and a lunge in my general direction. I’m happy to report no blood was spilled, discounting any bruises and contusions due to the retreat and premature closing of the cabin door. Let’s agree to call our first skirmish a draw in place. Now, I won’t pretend to know anything about monkey psychology but I am a keen observer of animal behavior and I’d say our friend here, after finishing his onion, is overwhelmed with ennui or maybe he’s just looking for some action but I was sure I detected a small movement toward the ladder. That’s when I struck. I opened the door a crack and screamed something abusive. It may have involved his mother. That last bit seemed to work and our Humble Skipper courageously leaped out into the cockpit to take possession. The bugger did turn around indignantly when he mounted the ladder as if to burn my face into his memory. Chilling.

Now that I am known as the Monkey King I wonder if I can teach the troop to sand?

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Putting the egg back together 

The thing about brutally murdering one out of every four of your country’s citizens, concentrating on judges, artists, musicians, dancers, and the most educated and productive in the land, is that the gap created in collective memory is severed and so profound that it’s almost impossible to reconstruct. The few survivors of Pol Pot labored long and hard to rebuild their tragically lost culture, in some cases going so far as having to explain to the citizens why the dance was so important to Khmer Culture.

We saw a banner advertising a traditional dance program at the theater in the National Museum complex and booked seats after a day of touring the Killing Fields. We’d seen a lot of Indonesian and Malaysian dance this season, usually as a welcome ceremony for us cruisers so we were curious to see Cambodian dance. The good news was that the center was just a block from our hotel.

The performance was preceded by a beautiful and inspiring film on the national effort to regain their cultural roots. Aging artists, musicians and dancers who had survived the genocide were identified and brought together with young aspiring performers to rebuild the generational links and pass on the traditional arts.

From the first movement of the newly minted dancers I was struck by how strangely familiar some of the poses were and then it hit me. We’d just just spent four days staring in awe at bas-relief warriors and dancers carved into the ancient sandstone walls of Angkor Wat doing much the same thing.

Most of the pieces featured the noble Khmer peasants harvesting rice, or planting rice, or eating rice.

These are the same peasants Pol Pot browbeat into becoming the fearsome heartless murderers of the Khmer Rouge. Hard to understand but there it is. These are the people that brought us the Killing Fields but after the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge, other than a few leaders, there was very little revenge killing. Even Pol Pot was left to his own devises, dying of old age in a little town up in the mountains, kind of a “we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone arrangement.”

Seeing the bright, enthusiastic faces of these young performers erased much of the horror we learned about earlier in the day and we joined them in celebrating the human spirit.

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Winging it in Phnom Penh

Mr Man tuktuked us to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight to Phnom Penh. Two hours to check in for a 45 minute flight. Legend has it that a woman named Penh found four images of the Buddha on the shores of the Mekong River and built a temple on the tallest hill in the area in which to keep them. The city that grew up around the hill became known as Phnom Penh or ‘Penhs Hill.’ The city sits at the confluence of four rivers: the Upper Mekong, the Lower Mekong, the Sap, and the Bassac. The Khmers call it Chatomuk, or four faces.

We had only the sketchiest outline of a plan. It kind of read something like; get settled in, reconnoiter the colonial French quarter, check out a possible Mekong River cruise, meditation session for M, avoid the very graphic torture museum but find the Killing Fields memorial and hit the National Museum. We call it winging it. 

We found the Okay Boutique Hotel “with city view.”

It was okay but our view was not.

They eventually moved us to the ninth floor but couldn’t accommodate the extra two days we added just to make sure we were in compliance with the Malaysian “get lost” rules needed to renew our visas. 

We decided to hit the ground running this time so after a long exploratory walk we found ourselves in the French quarter at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia featuring large photojournalist pictures on the walls and unsurpassed views across the Sap and Mekong Rivers.

Here, and really everywhere, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, and the horrors of genocide were just below the surface. If it can happen here to these peaceful, kind people it can happen anywhere.

Marce had once again found several highly rated vegetarian restaurants all within walking distance of our hotel but, in a major miracle, she found a tiny hole in the wall eatery serving superb authentic Ethiopian cuisine, a particular favorite of ours. 

Now about that city view. A move up to the ninth floor solved the view problem and that’s the Mekong River off in the distance. The Royal Palace is on the right. Definitely better.

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Gravity and tolerance 

Now I’m not the world’s most spiritual guy, but I get by. I confess that when I stepped through the intricately carved corner gatehouse at Angkor Wat I was …moved. I don’t think what’s left of my hair has lain down yet. As a statement of national pride and honor this is to Modern Cambodia as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, except that the Angkor site is substantially larger than all of modern Paris. One could go on and on but that’s not what you Dear Escapees came for is it? Today’s installment features a short story due to the fact that we’d noticed a path that led off into the forest and after some due diligence and prodigious research on Google Earth M. found several very old but smallish temples scattered in the woods.

We told Mr Man to have his tuktuk warmed up by 8:30 and we were going to the temples in the forest. Why, he asked? No one goes there. Marce showed him her red yarn blessing thingie around her wrist and he showed us his, which happened to also be red. I am Buddhist too, she said. He smiled and stepped down for first gear.


After Mr Man dropped us off in the forest we soon came upon a fairly modern small pagoda with a very large Buddha.

M stopped for a backup blessing but felt the man in orange was just phoning it in. No mention of a long life.


This guy was getting a serious blessing.

The Khmer architects actually didn’t know how to build an arch so they laid each stone with just a little overhang until they met at the middle. Gravity and close tolerances did the rest……..

¡

…until it didn’t. 

Turns out several centuries seems tolerable enough.

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Leaving the land of Ringgits

Malaysia, and for that matter most of Southeast Asia, is famous for bureaucratic, mind numbing visa regulations and wouldn’t you know it, ours are winding down to a precious few days. To reset our 90-day Malaysian visas we have to leave the country and because we are close to the end of our stay we have to get lost for at least seven days before re-entering. 

Marce started the campaign with Vietnam as the goal. We soon found ourselves overwhelmed with possibilities and expanding projected budgets, worrisome with a refit of Escape Velocity staring us in the face. Turns out, Cambodia is just the ticket, specifically the temples of ancient, mysterious Angkor Wat.

Now, since leaving Cairns, Australia, I’ve been challenged with difficult money math as we made our way across Indonesia where 11,000 point something rupiah equals one USD. I found this impossible to deal with but, Marce said, If you move the decimal four places to the left you have an Aussie dollar and, feeling fat and sassy, 25 percent more buying power with the godalmighty USD! We could actually afford to live in this place. 

Malaysian ringgits are a four to one proposition which I find within my comfort level, but now I need to come to grips with the Cambodian riel which exchanges at 4100 something riel to one USD. The advantage here is that Cambodia really is based on the USD so just for fun you’ve got dual simultaneous currencies. It’s messy and it inflates prices but Cambodians smile and just make it work.

First roadblock is an overnight stay at the Kuala Lumpur airport which is quite expensive and based on only a six hour stay! I was rather hoping for eight hours of sleep. Marce found a workaround but KL’s airport is so large that they feel the need to charge you for a train ride to the terminal where your hotel is located. They don’t even call it a hotel, but rather a “private resting place.”

After the shiny pants KL airport, the dusty cab ride through the Cambodian countryside served notice that this is primarily an agricultural society, but as we approached Siem Reap which is as close to Angkor Wat as you can stay, the tuktuks, motos, and taxis started to stack up into serious stop-and -go traffic. Our driver found our hotel down a dusty alley and we hopped out and entered the serene environs of The Moon Residence and Spa.

By late afternoon we were carefully picking our way around dusty broken sidewalks and dodging tuktuks and motos, while trying to bear in mind that Cambodia was once French and they drive on the right…well if they feel like it. After a bit of careful walking we found ourselves in the middle of a thriving town with the beautiful Siem Reap River running through it.

Marce had marked a list of top shelf vegetarian restaurants on the map and our search for a likely candidate led us down a colorful alleyway filled with little shops and eateries representing most of the cuisines of the world. 

We ate amazing food while breathlessly excited by the prospect of tomorrow’s sunrise over Angkor Wat.

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Just don’t suck

We don’t always go on the official rally tours. I don’t know, how many endless Indonesian speeches can you listen to before you just don’t care anymore? Sultans, governors, village officials, we’ve watched them all drone on and on, but sometimes the organizers get it right. The bus tour of Kumai promised to be one of the good ones, and besides there’s usually some descent swag. The problem is that once they have you on the bus, you’re on for the whole day until the final speech.

At 9:00 am as I motor toward the official rally dock I can already see the usual madness. Dignitaries at the podium, outrageously colorful “authentic costumes”on the dancers and the band, event facilitators desperately trying to hold a constantly evolving situation together.

After a mercifully short welcoming we are herded toward a couple of nice buses, but I can’t help noticing the six motorcycle Polisi, faces covered, with M4 assault weapons hanging from a shoulder mount. Most Indonesian authorities have extremely colorful uniforms. These guys are head to toe in black. I’m thinking this is just a bus load of bum sailors, what the hell is going on here? Turns out Indo TV has been shooting footage of us and as improbable as it seems, we are a very popular segment most every night on television! The ministry of tourism has pulled out all the stops and that kind of explains all the drone shots and taped interviews we’ve done. I breathe a heavy sigh of relief in the knowledge that when the hail of bullets start, Marce, who begged off with a recurrence of back pain, will be safe back on Escape Velocity wondering what is he up to now?

Right now the well armed motorcycle gentlemen in black are motioning for the bus driver to park over there and personally I think we should just do as they say. Turns out the first thing you see is a traditional long house of the Dayaknese Tribe.

These folks are the people that gave us the term Bogeyman due to their remarkable fierceness.

But first a rice wine welcome.

Things are looking up and, fortified, Yours Truly gives the eight foot blow pipe a go, firmly striking the target, all the while remembering not to suck.

More dancing where the bogeyman finally shows up, and a little more rice wine.

Next up, our armed motorcade pulls up to Astana Mangkubumi which features this cute and colorful little prince and princess.

I’ve noticed that these palaces are kind of empty and have a lot of stuff that looks like the Dutch just left it behind. After the buffet lunch we walk down to the Tujuh Putri Water Castle which is better known as the Princess’s Pool and rumor has it that if you dare to rub this filthy water on your skin you will become beautiful. I pass.

I was pretty excited about this next location at the Rainbow Village and when our armed entourage drops us off at their pier we are swamped with requests for selfies with the locals.

We stumble right into the middle of a Refuse Fashion Contest for all ages. Kinda cute and very creative.

Unfortunately it starts to rain as we clamber aboard the local watercraft called a Tuck-Tuck, a one lung diesel, hand cranked, with a tiny propeller at the end of a long shaft that is mostly out of the water. No neutral, no reverse, no transmission, but kinda fun.

Scenes like something on the Nile overwhelm us as we chug by. The view from the river is a bit less painted rainbow, let’s call it just unpainted wood.

The gents in black motion our bus to the car park for the Yellow Palace where the gala dinner will take place. The Sultan is a no-show due to the romancing of his mistress over in Jakarta, which suits me fine, so Yours Truly needn’t change into long pants out of respect. Strange place this Yellow Palace. Once again a kind of empty museum but with a ballroom and grounds where we end up listening to speeches in Indonesian and watching traditional dance. I’m no judge but this show seemed a cut above. I even meet Biruté Galdikas, one of Leakey’s Angels who still runs the Leakey Camp we’d just visited.

It’s well past cruisers’ midnight as the well protected bus pulls into the official rally dock. On the way to Catnip I pick up several stranded cruisers who find they have no way back to their boats so we all pile in bringing to an official end, the official tour.

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Still chasing waterfalls

At the Sinvay Internet Cafe of Tifu I’d heard about a tour to a waterfall about one hour boat ride down the coast. The next morning Marce begged off needing executive time and I confess that I was still a little foggy due to general passage fatigue as I clambered into our friends’ tiny dinghy for a ride to the town jetty. The usual chaos was in full swing.

“What time did they say?”

“8 am.”

“Have we changed time zones?”

“Always a possibility.”

“Maybe they meant 9 am, what time is it?”

“7:45.”

“Well, where are they?”

“They’re on island time, they’ll get here.”

And so they did. Soon we clambered aboard a couple of long narrow, but colorful, open air outboards and hobby horsed out of Tifu harbor.

It was quite rough and when we arrived at the beach there was a lot of conversation and serious faces as they planned where to drop their anchors and then backed up to the beach to disgorge all the yachties. The boats in the surf were like bucking Broncos in the hands of the crews, while we jumped off the transom into the water.

Locals were there to welcome us to their beach with drums and dance. This is only the second time yachties ever visited this waterfall. Pure jaw-dropping unspoiled magic. I expect there to be a resort here soon.

Predictably the conditions worsened during our stay and we were soaked with saltwater spray by the time we rounded the rocks back to Tifu harbor. This was one for the books.

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Take a lesson

I know what you’re thinking. Wayne Newton, star of the Las Vegas strip featuring the highest voice in show business, seen here rendered in lifelike concrete, belting out a passionate rendition of his all time mega hit song “Danke Schön” is the spiritual leader of a tiny fishing village called Tifu on the Indonesian Island of Buru? Who knew? Well it certainly fooled Yours Truly.

Turns out that what we thought might be a nice overnight pit stop with a beautiful peaceful picturesque harbor was a totally isolated village with a darker history. This is where the Suharto’s government exiled dissidents and communists where they could do the least harm. That might explain why our charts had the baffling but apparently outdated restriction that it was illegal to approach closer than ten nautical miles off the Tifu coast. Do not rescue the political prisoners! It really is a gem of a harbor and in Yours Truly’s opinion, too good for communists! But what a contrast to the Spice Islands.

As near as I could tell, I didn’t find any communists but it’s still very isolated here in Tifu without cell service or internet, except when Hendrick cranks up the old generator to power up the Sinjay Internet cafe.

It’s haphazard but generally sometime around 8 am for about an hour and again near 6 pm. Of course we didn’t expect any internet or cell service at all so this was a positive development. When was the last time you saw a group of kids with no iPhones? It’s more of a meeting place than an internet cafe. Locals would gather to watch yachties desperately seeking current weather information and downloading email. Incredibly slow, it’s still the place to be in Tifu.

Turns out that Wayne didn’t make the cut and that cordless microphone is some sort of totem of authority that this missionary whose giant gray countenance guards the harbor, brought with him to pitch some flavor of Christianity or other to …well, communists. He’s big, he’s gray, and kinda stiff, but the people are friendly, happy, and incredibly welcoming, especially the kids. There are nations in this world that should take a lesson.

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Stepping out in Banda

I remember reading something about a bronze bust of Willem III ensconced in a shady courtyard of the Dutch colonial governor’s former residence now gone to seed with benign neglect. I have no idea where this mansion might be but it’s said that the courtyard is attached to a barracks and I just might know roughly where that might be.

Soon we were met with kids of all ages goose-stepping through the dusty streets of Banda. I have to say that goose stepping without helmets, gray uniforms, and shiny black boots looks a little silly, like a Monty Python skit. Once again I had to lower my voice and say, “Marce, somethings going on here.”

After finding the bronze bust we wandered through the mansion and found what has to be a framed canon ball hit. I don’t know about you, but is it art?

We paused outside to watch the rehearsal of an elaborate flag ceremony and that’s when Marce said, “Aha, they’re practicing for Independence Day.” From who, I wouldn’t know…anyone?

(Side note from Marce: I have an old Samsung phone and have assigned as the sound for incoming messages and notifications the distinctive crack of a bottle being opened and the cap falling to the table — svftt plink tinkle tinkle. I hear this sound a lot all day long. The flag ceremony rehearsal had accompanying music that must have been bluetoothed to the speakers from someone’s phone because every minute or so the music was punctuated by svfft plink tinkle tinkle. Again and again we heard the bottle opening sound and suppressed our giggles as we watched the students practicing their solemn faces. svftt plink tinkle tinkle. Many of them, like us, couldn’t keep a straight face.)

The kids on Banda are normally a happy cheerful lot, somehow managing to be happy and cheerful while goose stepping in school uniforms through town. I hope this year we can see something of the celebration because last year we arrived in Bali too late to see how they celebrate Independence Day.

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History you can touch

Most of the history and clashes between the Dutch and the English in the spice trade occurred on the nearby islands of Ai and Run, within easy eyesight of each other. So why pile into a 30 foot long narrow twin outboard for a rollercoaster spray-filled hour and a half when you’re already well aware of what happened there? Turns out I never pass up a chance to touch history.

By the time we cleared the anchorage our skipper leaned over the 40 horsepower screaming outboard he was using to pull start the 40 hp outboard beside it, setting it to full scream. He locked the engine straight ahead while making course corrections with the original engine. Careening from wave to wave we did a close drive by of Ai on the way to Run. They really are very small but steep little islands, tiny specks out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a mystery to Yours Truly how they ended up with such unique flora and is it a blessing or a curse?

The approach into Run was reef strewn and incredibly shallow, causing our boat to crunch on the crushed coral and bounce occasionally. It’s true what the old salts say that you can smell Run before you even get there. We had to bail out over the transom, squeezing passed the two outboards and into the water. We walked maybe two kilometers along a sinuous path.

You really can see the difference the spice trade makes in their everyday lives. Their houses are nicer, their villages are nicer, even their cats are better fed. They complain that with so many competitors it’s hard to make any money in the spice trade but over time nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon have been very good for them, that is when the Dutch weren’t trying to kill them.

The governor’s house was turned from ruin to rubble as was the fort in the 1988 earthquake so our guide said we weren’t going up there but I still had that tingling sensation, let’s call it a profound sense of history, when walking through the village.

Run, after all, had the nutmeg seed trees that most of the world’s nutmeg is descended from and knowing the Dutch mania for spice trade monopoly, the Brits got them to throw in Manhattan as a sweetener during negotiations at the treaty of Breda, including a twin of the Fort Belgica whose walls were eventually paved over in Manhattan, and are now called Wall St.

With every turn we were met with the sweet perfume of cloves or nutmeg drying spread out in the sun. Heady stuff.

On the way to Ai we stopped on an uninhabited little islet called Neilaka for a picnic lunch on the beach right off of Run.

The routine was different on Ai where they let us off at one end of the village but picked us up after our stroll up and down through town.

Ai’s fort was Dutch built but appropriated by the Brits who, with the natives’ help, held on against persistent Dutch attack for quite awhile.

On the way down we were shown our guide and boat driver’s beautiful guest estates. I may be in the wrong business.

We all clambered aboard between the twin outboards and quickly collided with the wind blown waves and spray.

Well worth it.

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